OWATONNA — Students and families in the Owatonna Public Schools will now be able to apply to receive computers, tablets and other technology no longer in use by the district, thanks to a new policy approved by the school board on Monday.
Board members unanimously signed off on the new guideline after publicly reading it aloud for the third time at their Nov. 25 meeting. Introducing it initially back in October, Superintendent Jeff Elstad said at last month’s work session that the push came primarily from the district’s technology and innovation department.
“They were looking at some of our previously owned computers and seeing if there was a way for us to match those with families or students in need of access to those devices,” he explained.
Mike Halverson, director of technology and innovation for the Owatonna Public Schools, said a change in state law necessitated revisiting the district’s obsolete equipment policy as a whole. Whereas before, the schools were able to follow Minnesota guidelines, they’ve now had to codify their own. As in previous years, the district is still able to bid out more expensive equipment and negotiate or sell smaller orders on the open market.
Schools have also long been able to donate used technology to other entities, including school districts, the state department of corrections, the board of trustees of Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, and any 501©(3).
“This ability to give these — with board approval — to students and their families is a big change,” said Halverson.
Now that officials have signed off on the new donation policy, Halverson is planning to give out roughly 250 old devices this winter.
“We will be sending out information probably in early December that will have information that families will need to apply, if they’re interested,” he explained. “That information will come back to the district and then families on free- and reduced-lunch will have precedence, according to the law.”
After all applications from students on the reduced-lunch program are met, then the remaining computers will be distributed to other applicants via a lottery. Halverson said the rationale behind prioritizing under-resourced students was to close what he called the “digital divide.” He emphasized the importance of helping kids have and use these electronic tools outside of school.
“The digital world that our kids are growing up in is so important. Twenty-first century learning is one of our core commitments,” he explained. “We figured we needed to commit to these learners.”
Halverson added that the “obsolete equipment” covered by the new policy simply means that any given item is at least four years old. “They’re still in working condition, but just not suitable for what we want to do day in, day out.”
Going forward, he estimated that there would be no more than one large donation per year, and hoped that there would be at least roughly 250 computers and tablets in every batch. Families enrolled in the district can be expecting a communication from the Owatonna Public Schools in the coming weeks with more information about how to apply for this round of equipment.
Active grandparents honored by board
In other news, the Grandparents for Education group was honored Monday night as the school board’s “Mission Moment” for the meeting. Volunteers from the organization provide classroom, event and materials support across the district — helping prepare supplies, sell concessions at school plays, read with younger students and more.
At the meeting, Elstad noted that members had contributed nearly 7,000 volunteer hours throughout the course of the previous school year.
“One of the things I enjoy the most about Grandparents for Education is that you tell stories,” he told volunteers in attendance. “Stories are an important part of our history that children need to know about.”
The organization’s board chair, Linda Breyer, thanked the board for the honor, saying her volunteers loved their jobs.
“Everybody who works in the school is so gracious and thankful,” she said. “We are just thrilled to do it for the schools.”
with audit review
School board officials were also presented with the Executive Audit Summary for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2019. Dennis Hoogeveen, principal with CliftonLarsonAllen — the district’s independent auditing firm — came down to review the company’s findings with the board.
“We have issued a clean, or unmodified, audit report,” Hoogeveen told those gathered. “It’s as good of a report as we’re able to give any Minnesota school district.”
According to Amanda Heilman, director of finance and operations for the Owatonna Public Schools, having a “clean” audit means there were no discrepancies in reporting.
“A clean, unmodified auditor’s opinion is what you want because it means that your finances are fairly stated,” she explained.
The year’s budget was also more or less balanced. The district saw $61.9 million is total general fund expenditures and $61.2 million in revenue.
Staff with the Owatonna Public Schools also went one step further in their financial reporting for the previous year and assembled a Comprehensive Annual Financial Report. While optional, a CAFR is an opportunity to provide additional statistical data and analysis that Hoogeveen said can help in the future by providing important historical information.
“We actually have to do statistical tables in the back. It has financial information, revenue information, demographic and operating information, debt capacity,” explained Heilman, of the added work that goes into preparing a CAFR. At the meeting, she told board members that the district has received a Certificate of Excellence in Financial Reporting for the past 25 years, awarded by the Association of School Business Officials International.
Members of the public can view the CAFR at www.owatonna.k12.mn.us/page/2611.